(“Admit it, you guys have no idea who I am, do you?” Pic: Heavy)
Still so relatively new to the UFC party, the sub-lightweight divisions are to MMA analysts as the New World must have been to early cartographers. We think we have a rough sketch of what’s out there, but the exact shape of things is a little foggy and once we get past the top two or three, we’re just gonna draw some squiggles and write something like “Here there be sea monsters!”
The featherweight class, for example, is still very much in the process finding its legs in the Octagon, with the promotional debut of champion Jose Aldo pushed back to UFC 129 due to the pain in his neck. Already however, there has been a pretty significant influx of talent into the 145-pound ranks since the UFC officially absorbed it at the beginning of this year. Michihiro Omigawa, Kenny Florian and Tyson Griffin have all plunged into the division, with more immigration sure to follow as the 155-pound division gets more and more crowded. We guess what we’re saying is, things can change fast in the land of the little man, so read our inaugural featherweight rankings now before something happens to render them moot.
1. Jose Aldo: He’s close to sweeping out his division in a way that only Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre can claim to have done. During his eight-fight stint in the WEC, only Urijah Faber was able to survive to the last bell against him — and he nearly lost a leg in the process. Joe-Zay’s a killer, and always a thrill to watch.
2. Hatsu Hioki: There’s always the worry that these “big in Japan” fighters aren’t as great as we think they are. Maybe Hioki would fizzle out in the Octagon just like Kid Yamamoto and Michihiro Omigawa before him. I’d love to find out. Other than his controversial decision loss against Omigawa, Hioki has defeated some of the best talent in his home country (as well as Canada, earlier in his career). Hioki’s last win over Marlon Sandro in December earned him a Sengoku title belt, and a more unofficial distinction as the baddest featherweight not under contract with Zuffa.
3. Chad Mendes: He might not be the UFC’s No. 1 featherweight contender (yet), but I have Money Mendes ranked above Mark Hominick because he’s undefeated, he’s fought twice as often as Hominick in the last three years, and he’s coming off a big win over top-ten ranked Michihiro Omigawa. The Team Alpha Male standout definitely seems to be next in line at this point.
4. Mark Hominick: An impressive five-fight win streak has earned the Canadian veteran a shot at Aldo’s crown. He has the firepower to take out anybody else in the division, but let’s be real: He’ll need a goddamned miracle on April 30th.
5. Marlon Sandro: The recent loss to Hioki hurts his ranking, but Sandro can still be the most dangerous 145-pounder in the world on any given night. His knockouts of Masanori Kanehara, Tomonari Konamata, Yuji Hoshino, and Nick Denis are literally painful to watch. Since he comes from the same Nova Uniao camp as reigning UFC champ Jose Aldo, we’re probably better off that Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, if you ask me. Aldo’s UFC debut has been temporarily waylaid by that neck injury, but as soon as he’s right and starts knocking fools out in the Octagon, I fully expect him to take his place alongside the aforementioned champions in terms of marketability.
2. Chad Mendes: Perhaps Mendes is yet a bit untested, but so far he hasn’t run up against anyone at 145-pounds who could even kind of deal with his skill set. His dismantling of Omigawa was impressive and I think he’d have a good chance to take care of any other Zuffa-owned 145-pounder as well, short of the man in charge.
3. Hatsu Hioki: I have to admit, every time I see this dude’s name I think: Who? Then I remember – oh, yeah – the Shooto guy or whatever. Can’t really argue with the data, including the win over Sandro and two over Hominick a few years back, but history tells us if Hioki ever got his shit together and came over to America, he’d immediately crumble under the pressure of the Octagon. Word is there’s been some mutual footsie going on between the fighter and the UFC, so maybe we’ll even get to see it someday. For now, I guess he’s No. 3.
4. Marlon Sandro: Signing with Bellator should give Sandro the opportunity to rack up a few more wins, including probably taking the title off Joe Warren at his earliest convenience. But the more the Zuffa, LLC empire tightens its grip on the MMA universe, you have to wonder: How long before we’re all one big happy family (of wage slaves)? Until then, it’s sheer guesswork how good guys like Sandro really are.
5. Mark Hominick: I’m not sure I can totally agree with BG’s sentiment that Aldo has almost cleaned out the division just because I feel like featherweight is just starting to blow up. Case-in-point the No. 5 spot on this list is (in my book, at least) pretty hotly contested between dudes like Hominick, Josh Grispi, Dustin Poirier, Erik Koch and (as soon as they get around to making their respective debuts) Florian and Griffin.
1. Jose Aldo: Aldo is a fighter who is already being talked about as being one of, if not THE best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA. I do think it’s a bit premature to put him in a league with Anderson Silva, GSP and Fedor until we can see how he handles a guy with world-class striking and BJJ, but until that happens, he’ll probably keep dazzling us.
2. Hatsu Hioki: I’ve seen Hioki fight live against Mark Hominick and the dude had to be carried into the post-fight presser with both eyes swollen shut and ice bags on his face and legs — AND HE WAS THE WINNER. There’s no quit in the kid and he has the skills to beat anyone in the division.
3. Marlon Sandro: Sandro is one of those guys who can knock out or tap out pretty much anybody, but what makes him one of the best in the world is that he doesn’t hold back or play it safe because he has the skills to back up his recklessness.
4. Mark Hominick: I’ve long said that Hominick has the best technical stand-up in all of MMA and I think we’re going to see if I’m full of shit when he squares off with one of the most prolific and explosive strikers in the game (Aldo) at UFC 129. I don’t think this one is going to be decided on the mat, but however it goes down, expect fireworks.
5. Chad Mendes: Without his win over Omigawa, Mendes wouldn’t be on my list. With it, he’s on it and deserving of the label, “viable contender.”